Last March, when gay 24-year-old Daniel Zamudio was beaten so severely, after having swastikas carved into his skin, that he died in the hospital three weeks later, the brutal murder shocked Chileans and spurred the government there to fast-track LGBT antidiscrimination legislation. A lawyer for Zamudio’s family, Jaime Silva, told The Christian Science Monitor that the crime was “the most brutal attack we’ve seen since the days of the dictatorship.” As soon as news hit U.S. shores, Zamudio was being called South America’s Matthew Shepard, and his murder a stark reminder of the crimes that have shaken LGBT folks, especially in the U.S., over the last 50 years.
As more than 70 countries prepare to observe the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia May 17, criminologists, activists, and survivors in many cities have been discussing ways to deal with crimes against — and occasionally by — LGBT folks. There have been more than 600 reports of murdered trans people in almost 50 countries since January 2008 (including killings this year in Detroit, D.C., Florida, and California), and there was an overall 13% increase (in 2010, the most recently recorded year) in violent crimes committed against LGBT or HIV-positive people, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Some murders are so iconic they’re steeped in popular culture: Brandon Teena, murdered by his rapists in Nebraska in 1993; Angie Zapata, a trans woman killed by a transphobic boyfriend (Zapata’s murderer was later tried on hate crime charges, a first for a transgender victim). But there are others that slip under the radar: some in which victims’ families never find justice — like Martha Oleman, a lesbian killed in Sugarcreek Township, Ohio, in 1997, her murder part of the state’s cold case files — and others in which police action is swift but resolution remains murky.
While all crimes change the world, on the following pages are 12 LGBT crimes that won’t soon be forgotten, serving as a reminder of the enduring violence we face daily.